Details on Reopening Cuba Tourism post-Covid-19

By Glenda Boza Ibarra  (El Toque)

Havana’s Hotel Nacional.  Photo: Sadiel Mederos

HAVANA TIMES – Cuba has announced that it will begin lifting restrictions post-Covid-19, in three staggered phases. Tourism, the country’s main economic activity, has been significantly affected by the pandemic and the Cuban people’s main concern is that new cases will be imported, once it reopens.

According to what emerged on the Mesa Redonda TV show last Thursday, the first recovery phase involves hotels offering special holiday packages to national customers. The second phase will mean that foreign visitors are only able to access off-shore beach resorts in Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Cruz and Cayo Largo del Sur.

“Upon arrival, foreign tourists will have to follow strict health protocols,” prime minister Manuel Marrero Cruz explained on Cuban TV.

“All visitors will be subject to a PCR test at border control and will have their temperature taken. If they test positive for Covid-19, they will be transferred to a hospital.”

The former minister of Tourism detailed the health measures that will determine the reopening of this sector, based on the economic importance this sector has for Cuba and the population’s concerns, at a time when the country seems to have the disease under control.

“Guests at the cays will not have access to the main island. Excursions to the city are on standby and priority will be given to nautical trips or day trips within the cays themselves.”

He also announced that rental cars won’t be an option during the first phase of recovery and, during the second phase, tourists renting cars will not be able to drive on the mainland.

Even though Cubans won’t have access to beaches on the northern and southern cays during the first and second phases, Varadero’s beach resort will be one of the main options for the domestic market.

“Varadero will first open up for Cubans and later for tourists,” the prime minister explained. “We studied the option of dividing the Varadero peninsula: one side for the international market (at the far end) and another for the domestic trade. That way, we would be able to avoid foreigners mixing with the city and locals, during this second phase. Services will resume as normal in the third phase of recovery.

Some 150 measures make up the health and hygiene regulations that have been approved to prevent Covid-19 transmission in Cuban hotels.

Health safety protocols begin with the reception of customers, who must only enter the hotel after their temperature has been taken, and they disinfect their hands, shoes, suitcases and wheels of transport vehicles.

“No hotel will be operating at 100% capacity – 60% max – to ensure physical distancing. There will be a team available made up of a doctor, nurse and an Epidemiology graduate to ensure the disease is being monitored,” said Marrero.

In a video that was recently published by the Cubanacan chain, it has been announced that rooms will be cleaned and disinfected in keeping with guidelines, doing maintenance work with housekeeping. Some sheets, pillows, carpets, dressing gowns and leaflets are being removed. Blankets and robes will be handed out upon request.

Restaurant entrances will have disinfectant readily available and the daily menu will be in clear sight. Tables will be 1.5 m away from each other, and the buffet service will have limited capacity. Room service will be available in every hotel.

During the first phase, service at bars will be banned, but there will be table service. Antibacterial gel or disinfectant will be available in front of elevator entrances, and elevators will have a 50% capacity.

Guests will be given an individual safety kit with mask, gloves, etc.

Manuel Marrero explained on Mesa Redonda that these safety protocols also establish specific regulations for tourism employees.

“All employees will be given a quick test when they enter a hotel and they must wear a mask at all times, as well as other protective gear. They will be given conditions to work seven days straight, and then they will have another 7 days to rest at home. There, they will be monitored and respect quarantine regulations.”

The prime minister also announced that air restrictions continue in the country, and commercial flights will be banned for now. Only humanitarian, cargo or medical collaboration planes will be able to land.

However, during these early phases, foreign tourists will be able to fly to international airports in Cayo Coco and Cayo Largo del Sur, on charter flights. He outlined the specific case of Santa Clara international airport, where customers staying in Cayo Santa Maria will be able to fly into.

“Abel Santamaria Airport will open, with strict safety protocols. Upon arrival in Cuba, customers will be transported by bus (with restroom facilities) to prevent them from stopping on the journey. They will be escorted by the police until they reach their hotel destination.”

In terms of baggage, the restriction of only traveling with one suitcase as well as one piece of hand luggage, remains. Once the country enters its third phase of recovery, passengers will be able to carry two suitcases.

“Cuba’s baggage control allowed 5.6 suitcases per person, on average. Many Cubans travel for commercial purposes (which is illegal), and we can’t encourage these practices again,” Marrero Cruz has said.

During this TV appearance, the minister of Economy Alejandro Gil recognized that there has been a “significant decline in tourism revenue” and it was necessary to cut exports linked to the tourism sector.

“We are facing a very complex situation (…), the drop in revenue has been quite sharp,” he admitted.

According to an assessment by economist Pedro Monreal, Cuba’s tourism sector is facing three main challenges: the drop in tourism before the pandemic, an increase in international customers during a limited demand because of the global crisis and the chance for national tourism to give the sector a boost.

Monreal is skeptical about the recovery of the European market “whose potential customers come from six of the most severely affected countries, both in terms of health and finance: Russia, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the UK.”

“The prospects of extra-continental international travel (both in Europe and Asia) don’t seem to be promising after this summer or the rest of 2020. It is estimated that it will only get back on its feet in 2021, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty.”

The economist highlights the potential of recovering the tourism sector with visitors from the Cuban community abroad, who “haven’t escaped the negative impact of the crisis on their income”, but who have a greater motivation to travel to Cuba than other foreign tourists.

“This isn’t a forecast. It’s just a hypothesis,” he summarized.

Before these measures were revealed, several hotel chains had already begun to promote Cuba as a safe tourist destination.

Even though the first phase of recovery is expected to kick into action in June, no exact date has been released as of yet.

20 thoughts on “Details on Reopening Cuba Tourism post-Covid-19

  • All very logical. There are also some very interesting factors. Marrero Cruz has seized the opportunity to strike a low body blow to those Cubans who show individual capitalist style initiatives by importing goods. No doubt the regime will endeavor to retain those controls when (if) the Covid 19 crises is over.

    “significant decline in tourism revenue” actually means that the bottom has dropped out of the market, But increased revenues from the marketing of medical services (which already exceeded those of tourism prior to the epidemic) will in part compensate.

    The assessment that both European and Asian numbers will decline due to both “health and finance” is reasonable. Many of the usual package tour segment of the market will be broke.

    That implies that the main hope lies in the North American market, where the restrictions upon US travellers to Cuba have been re-imposed. That leaves Canada which was previously the largest individual market. Canada however requires a full mandatory two weeks isolation period for those entering the country. So a tourist visiting Cayo Santa Maria for two weeks, will have to isolate for a similar period upon returning to Canada. Obviously, few will be prepared so to do.

    Promoting Cuba as “a safe tourist destination” is exactly what was done in February – and then the Italians arrived!

    Reducing the number of suitcases to one, will make it difficult to respond properly to the recent plea received:

    “When you come home, bring food.”

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  • In this particular article, the following paragraph is one I read a few times and tried to imagine what the possible outcomes could be.

    “The economist highlights the potential of recovering the tourism sector with visitors from the Cuban community abroad, who “haven’t escaped the negative impact of the crisis on their income”, but who have a greater motivation to travel to Cuba than other foreign tourists.”

    Let’s assume the visitors from the Cuban community abroad come from Miami, Florida and are motivated to travel to Cuba. Assume the visitors have family living anywhere in Cuba, which many do, but not in the Cayos to which the Cuban tourism authorities want to send all visitors arriving from abroad.

    Do you think the visitors from Miami, Florida want to be isolated in one of these resorts, certainly luxurious, but nevertheless the Floridian visitor has no access to close friends and family relatives because they are not allowed to venture beyond the hotel perimeter. No taxi excursions or Cuban personal pickups for these motivated visitors. Will they come on mass as in the past as the tourism industry hopes they do? Only time will tell.

    On the other hand, tourists from say Canada who normally come to Cuba for a week or two and normally stay at all-inclusive hotel resorts and usually don’t venture outside the resort compound may come. However, they may decide not to because of the mandatory Canadian restriction that anyone arriving from abroad, say a Cuban vacation, unto Canadian soil must quarantine for 14 days. Not many Canadians will want or do that.

    According to news media reports in Canada, many potential tourists are stay “cationing”, certainly for this summer, which is to say, staying at home and vacationing within Canadian borders. It’s less complicated, safer, cheaper, and absent any personal health monitoring.

    The economist who stated the above quote clearly states a presupposition: the quote is not a forecast but a hypothesis. To move from economic projections to just normal human behavior and motivation, any tourist who spends money to venture to another country and is then thoroughly relegated and restricted by that country’s health authorities and police from freely visiting family and friends in that foreign country will certainly reconsider the trip, if not abandon the excursion all together.

    That is my hypothetical forecast at best and perhaps a provable hypothesis.

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  • Thank god we sure want to come in February. Love Cuba

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  • Can’t wait to come in February we love Cuba

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  • This plan is a mess from top to bottom.
    How many people from Europe want to come to Cuba now – not many
    How may people want to try and figure this all out when it happens – not many
    How many people even want to go only to the Cays – not many

    The only people that want to go to Cuba now are people that have family there. They need to bring them food and medicine.
    No tourist really wants to go through the already hellish welcome that is ever present in Havanas Airport. Long waits and heavy taxes – welcome to Cuba!

    But Cuba’s government never cared about that anyway.
    They seem bound and determined to just crush any chance of tourism returning.

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  • I have been going to Cuba since 1991, and also go for medical reasons. The travel proposal for foreigners needs a reality check! I realize that marketing studies is a subject not taught in Cuba but who do they think is coming? Also most Cubans that I know living in Cuba can’t afford a hotel in Cuba or a beer at the pool if allowed free entry! Dream on!

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  • I love cuba and will continue to come to support them as I can.

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  • I will return in November IF I can travel the country. If I am restricted to a hotel I will travel elsewhere. I prefer Cuba as I have many friends, but there is no point if I can’t travel within the country to visit with them. The private rental homes must open or my future vacations will be in other countries.

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  • It appears that the ever-present internal struggle between the isolationists within the Cuban regime and those that believe that the way forward is by opening up the country is alive and well and hiding behind the pandemic as the excuse-du-jour. These mitigation measures are reasonable but reflect a willingness to keep the tourism sector at bay as a means to avoid spreading the virus. The problem with this plan is that until a vaccine is developed, the risk of new infections remains high. Scientists have acknowledged until 80% of the population carries the virus antibodies or is vaccinated, the risk of infection remains high despite the mitigation practices. Bottom line: the only question is which is worse? COVID-19 with a 1% mortality rate or extreme poverty?

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  • I forgotten to wrote … EACH YEAR …I pass around 6 months in Cuba since 2001 , so a very good customer. But I will return only when the casas particulars will open , and no restrictions to see my girlfriend… / Let’s hope that they will be logical in the following decisions. // If they delay to much to start the business as usual, tourists might find and apreciated other place until they come back to a normal life in the island.. And by the way some tourists might not come back to Cuba, if they found another pleasant place …

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  • Simply lost for words. Cuba needs tourists who will feel that they are still appreciated. The Cuban Government need to ensure that all Cuban citizens feel appreciated if the Country is ever to make up lost ground.

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  • What of the cost of medical insurance during this pandemic?

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  • Fantastically stupid! Nobody is going to plan a vacation to Cuba without concrete information. Beyond the seriousness of Covid19 is this peculiar, KINDA-SORT OF-MAYBE…”try to guess when we’ll reopen” way of doing business. The cash-strapped airlines have also gotten on board with this nonsense by selling tickets they know will likely not be usable on the dates given. Instead they are only to glad to KEEP your money and issue you a voucher for future travel.

    It’s late June for crap sake and Cuba has largely made my plans FOR ME: My family will now travel somewhere local and blow off Cuba for another year. Assuming they even survive having yet again shot themselves in the foot.

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  • call me a positive Pollyanna if you must…. We have booked for November – we will resign ourselves to staying on-resort, and enjoy a week of relaxation and fun – and seeing the staff members that we can. 60% occupancy on our fave resort is wonderful for guest experience, and coming in with realistic expectation means that the mask on the plane etc.. will help. I wonder if the police escort to Cayo Santa maria will only go as far as the causeway? There’s a military checkpoint there, and nothing but resorts beyond… either way, that factor doesn’t bother me in the least – i”m chuffed to have a bathroom on the bus!!

    My understanding about the quarantine rule is that this will eventually be lifted for all but a select few destinations … (and there has been talk of the UK adopting an ‘air bridge’ to certain areas – Canada may well follow suit to areas that have demonstrated good infection control, and a comprehensive plan for prevention – I think Cuba has that in spades, and will hopefully allow us to get there sooner, and have fewer mishaps.

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  • We are regular twice a year tourist coming to Cuba for vacation, we have all ready booked our vacation for September. However in revelation that we have to be in self quarantine for two weeks upon return to home, we have to reconsider. We know Cuba needs tourism, but there is also a need for them consider between the revenue from tourism and risk associated with the COVID 19 pandemic. Health risk to local population and associated cost for the healthcare on affected population can outweigh income from the limited tourism. So there is not a easy solution for the Cuban government to choose. We as tourist can wait, but how long Cuba can wait for tourist ?

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  • Traveling to cuba august 15 what can I expect, will I be able to go to Havana?

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    • Things could change but as of now I’d say that is quite doubtfull. The main Covid-19 cases in recent days have been in Havana, which because of its population density and overcrowded housing in important parts of the city has been the hardest to control.

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  • Tourists in Cuba have been already herded like cattle by the authorities and the locals. Now with Covid I can only imagine how much more bothersome that ‘herding’ will be. Police escorting the tourist bus between the airport and hotel is just a preview and the opening salvo. I was thinking about September but this article made me realize what the tourist will be facing. I’m disappointed to say that I don’t think I can part take in the planned circus. Cuba is losing its last bits and pieces of appeal.

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